I’m one of those people who may find it hard to fall asleep on most nights. An hour spent winding down from my day often turns into three. A chapter from a well-worn book turns into a reread of its entirety before my eyelids finally succumb. But one surefire way to lull me into slumber is to bore me, intentionally or otherwise.
At an undergraduate public speaking class, too many summers ago to mention, we were told that even the most powerful speeches had to be delivered in under 20 minutes to prevent the audience’s attention from waning. Try telling that to the next ambitious speaker you hear in Pakistan. After the first half-hour of listening to a fantastically dull political speech, an audience of sceptics may appear to nod in affirmation with the politician’s rhetoric. Actually, they’re fighting their sleep by jerking themselves awake.
One may consider the drone of a monotonous voice as white noise for ears accustomed to the comforting sounds of a groaning fan or a whirring air conditioner (when there’s electricity) or a roaring generator (when there isn’t), thereby inducing slumber. However, Dr Bo Yao of the University of Glasgow provides an alternative theory in his “Brain talks over boring quote”, in the journal NeuroImage. While his work has been widely cited, he explains that it hasn’t been reported entirely accurately. He says that when listeners “expect the speaker to be entertaining” only to be confronted with a speech that is delivered in a “monotonous, boring way”, the brain compensates this prediction error by metaphorically ‘talking over’ with the predicted amused voice.
But what happens when one actually expects to be bored by a speaker? Case in point: black tie fundraisers. Meant to be a guilt-free ‘ticket’ to enjoying a paid evening out, one may expect a mind-numbing experience thanks to long-winded announcements about the said cause mingled with the detailed achievements of NGOs.
One can tell that certain speakers aren’t cut out for the public forum when just their introductory remarks exceed the entire length of Dr Martin Luther King Junior’s ‘I have a dream’ speech. During a lengthy presentation at a recent fundraising dinner, I found that I, too, have had a dream. Literally.
Although resources pour in from sponsors to organise fundraisers, the events themselves tend to fall as flat as the featured speeches. That bored guests aren’t likely to write generous cheques to a worthy cause tends to be overlooked by event planners. It’s worth trying Oscars-style musical crescendos, timed within five minutes of each speech, to help alleviate the tirade (and potentially increase donations from happier guests).
In a moving tribute to our politicians’ oratory and listening talents, social media offers thoughtful montages of parliamentary snooze fests. Try Googling ‘Sleeping + Pakistani + Politicians’ to view various YouTube clips complete with mocking soundtracks.
Sufferers of insomnia would be well advised to forego tepid remedies like sleeping pills and warm milk at bedtime in favour of turning on the TV for a deeper form of slumber. If there’s no rerun of a parliamentary session on, the fine instructors at Virtual University’s channels provide lecture-filled expressways straight to the Land of Nod.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2012.